Archaeology And Ancient History (VVC4): Selected Module Descriptions 2 and 3

Year 2

Investigating Rome or Investigating Greece

These 20 credit modules outline the main themes of Roman (1st-2nd C AD) and Greek (5th-4th C BC) history and historiography. Rome will take place in semester 1, Greece in semester 2. Students will become familiar with the range of literary, epigraphic and archaeological sources that historians use to reconstruct the ancient world. The modules will deal in detail with the problems of using this source material including the agendas and social climate of those who produced them. They will consider processes such as acculturation (including Romanisation) and theoretical models such as structuration theory and Marxist readings of history.

Subjects covered will range from political structures; imperialism and its social, political and economic effects; patronage both central and local; influence of military structures on society; role of individuals in the construction of the past; regional histories. Many of these sessions will consider the “othering” of non-elite male groups.

Paired with:

Artefacts and Material Culture

Artefacts and material culture lie at the heart of archaeological enquiry. Artefacts and materials provide us with dating evidence, exemplify ancient technologies, and offer insights into other ways of life, art, cognition and the materiality of human existence - practically and in terms of symbolic expression and sensory experience. Artefacts are also the primary media for representing the past in museums - a key point of contact for public engagement with cultural heritage. Archaeology is thus at the cutting edge of material culture studies, heavily influencing – and being influenced by – new approaches in anthropology, art history, heritage conservation and museology.

The module is divided into two sections. The first part charts the progress of artefacts “from mud to museum”; from their places of recovery to their final presentation in museum displays or curation in museum repositories. This will include discussion of on-site and lab-based finds management, curation, museum display methods (including innovative digital media), and the values, meanings and aesthetics of artefact presentation. The second part of the module examines current approaches to the interpretation of material culture in archaeology. The primary archaeological concern with understanding social life in the material world, and relationships between beliefs, knowledge, action and artefacts, are considered in relation to fundamental aspects of human existence such as technology, ritual, gender, age groups, cult, ethnicity and power.

The themes explored by this module are relevant to all periods of study and all parts of the world. By the end of the module you will be able to interpret material culture from a range of perspectives, and critically evaluate how past material worlds are recovered, curated, displayed and interpreted for modern audiences.

Year 3

Western Asia and Early Greece or Egypt in the New Kingdom

The sessions on Ancient Western Asia will cover the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages and aim to outline historical as well as cultural developments. Beginning with the palace societies and the world of the Amarna diplomacy links will be forged with Egypt and, in greater detail, the worlds of the pre-historic Aegean and early Greece. The course will introduce students to the latest research on the many peoples and cultures that shaped the Near East during this period.

The New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1539-1292 BC) saw the transformation of Egypt from rule by the Hyksos to an empire stretching from the Euphrates in Syria to the fifth cataract on the Nile in modern Sudan. It’s an era of warrior pharaohs but also of Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. International trade and diplomacy figure prominently, as do enormous religious building projects, extensively decorated tombs such as that of Nebamun, the Book of the Dead, personal religion and the village of Deir el-Medina. It’s also the period of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, later deified, and Khaemwese, the ‘first Egyptologist’. This module presents an overview, addressing different topics and themes in a broadly chronological framework, and always emphasising primary sources. Whether you’re fascinated by Egyptian temples and gods, by what they believed about an afterlife, by famous pharaohs, by relief carving, painting and sculpture, diplomatic correspondence and private letters, or interconnections with Africa, the Near East and the Mediterranean, there is something for you.

Paired with:

Archaeology in the World

Archaeology – more than any study of the past – is a truly global discipline, and no archaeologist works in a vacuum. All over the globe, archaeologists work within a framework of laws and regulations that control and determine what they do. Moreover, the work of archaeologists has implications for the people on whose behalf they work. This module will place archaeology in its context as a global endeavour that takes place at the national and local level. The module will cover issues such as how the discipline is governed and regulated, the different systems in place in different parts of the globe, the “public” on whose behalf archaeologists work, and the social, ideological and political consequences of conducting archaeology. Overall, the module will locate the practice of archaeology within its real-world context and raise interesting questions about what archaeology is for.

Years 2 and 3

Option – Death, Burial and Society

The universality of the human experience of death, the presence of well-preserved bodies and artefacts in burials, and the prominence of funerary architecture and symbolism have led archaeologists to some of their most vivid encounters with past cultural worlds. In many cases, mortuary practices provide us with the richest sources of archaeological evidence for religious beliefs and social ideals, while at the same time offering insights into the life histories and deaths of individuals. This module explores the diversity and complexity of funerary ritual and representation through archaeological evidence, focusing on current approaches to the analysis of mortuary evidence and funerary monuments, and interpretative themes such as social reconstruction, identity and personhood, death ritual, status, power and cosmology. These themes are examined with reference to the wide range of anthropological, sociological and historical perspectives that underpin the inter-disciplinary character of the archaeology of death.

The module is organised in four sections, beginning with an introduction to the nature of the evidence, the diversity of mortuary practices and how funerals and the treatment of dead bodies can be interpreted (using examples from all round the world and all periods). The second part looks at the significance of the dead in the early medieval period, ranging from saints‟ relics to royal burials. The third section focuses on cemetery studies and the celebration of diverse person-kinds in Classical Greek and Roman burials. The last section examines body symbolism and ritual in early prehistory in relation to ideas of ancestors, spirit worlds and sacrifice. Common themes that run through all these sections include elite funerary display and identity. By the end of the module you will be able to analyse burials and monuments from a range of perspectives, and critically assess how the evidence is used for interpretative purposes in all kinds of cultural contexts.

Option – Environmental History in Practice: Hands-on and Dirty

This module will provide you with direct hands on experience of a range of archaeological and biological materials. It will introduce you to the main range of sources used in environmental and economic reconstruction. You will be given case studies or „learning sets‟ of material and will be expected to use these to reach sound conclusions about human actions in the past. Materials to be covered include sampling strategies, animal bone, charred plant remains, insect remains, the interpretation of sediments and valley fills and an introduction to sediment description. This module remains the only laboratory based experience in the college of Arts and Law!

Option – Roman Britain and the Roman Army

Britain was one of the most heavily militarised of all the provinces of the Roman empire, with the garrison in the 1st and 2nd centuries comprising some 10% of the entire Roman army. Roman military archaeology in Britain has been a major focus of excavation and research over time, making Britain one of the most comprehensively studied military areas of the empire (and written about in English). Britain is thus an excellent case-study for looking at the Roman army, and equally military archaeology is one of the defining characteristics of the Roman period in Britain.

The course will begin by focusing on the army of the first and second centuries A.D., the period of conquest and consolidation and the building of the great northern frontiers such as Hadrian’s Wall. It will look at the types of unit, the fortresses and forts in which they lived, the conditions of service of the soldiers, pay, equipment, how such a huge force was supplied and sustained. It will then move on to look at the creation of the built frontiers in the North, Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, using them as examples of wider trends in Roman military strategy and frontier development. The final part of the course will look at the third and fourth centuries, outlining the changes that took place in the army in Britain within the more general context of the ‘military crisis’ of the third century, and at the last of the great defensive systems in Britain, the forts of the Saxon Shore.

The course will thus be an introduction both to many aspects of the Roman army in general, for students interested in Roman history and archaeology more generally; and to a defining aspect of Britain in the Roman period for those more focused on the archaeology of Britain itself.

Option – Palace Societies of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece

The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations were the first literate societies in Europe. Extraordinary architectural complexes which we call palaces were the centres of administration, industry and commerce. Wide ranging trade and influence can be detected from the upper Nile valley to the Baltic sea.

In this course you have the opportunity to study the origins, floruit and demise of these extraordinary societies, their achievements in art, architecture and engineering, stone and metal working (to name but a few), their administrative records and sophisticated production systems for the surpluses of cloth and perfumed oil which helped maintain trade systems reaching across the Central and Eastern Mediterranean.

Seminar – Virtual Worlds

From computer games to gadgets; from laser scanning to 3D modelling; from Virtual Reality to Virtual Museums! In this seminar you will use some of the latest technology for creating and working with digital 3D objects, sites and landscapes. You will use laser scanners to create virtual artefacts, and will use gaming technologies to create and move within virtual environments. There are tremendous opportunities provided by new technologies for studying the past, and the practical experience that you will gain will be useful well beyond the life and limits of your degree.

Seminar – Religion and Ritual: Archaeology, Anthropology and History

This seminar will explore ritual and religion from an inter-disciplinary perspective, focusing on recent approaches to ritual action and belief in Archaeology, Anthropology and History. There will be introductory sessions on the key theoretical and interpretative frameworks (rooted mainly in anthropology, sociology and cognitive psychology), and on the origins and global history of religion. The main focus of the course will be on a series of thematic seminar topics concerned with particular kinds of practice, representations, and beliefs in supernatural beings, forces and sacred domains. These include: rites of passage; ritual drama and theatre; sacrifice; ritual violence; magic and shamanism; pilgrimage; animism and totemism; ancestor-worship; deism and theism; symbolism and iconography; cosmography; religious communities; cult, shrines and ceremonial architecture; and power and ideology.

The approach in each case is comparative and cross-cultural, drawing on a wide range of archaeological and historical case studies. These range from prehistoric Europe (Palaeolithic cave art to Iron Age human sacrifice), pre-classical and classical Greece, the western Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, to Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica and Inca Peru. These are combined with numerous ethnographic and modern case studies from Britain, Europe, Africa, India, Polynesia, Australia, Siberia and North and South America. The themes explored in this seminar are relevant to all periods of study and all cultural contexts, and are applicable to other modules and individual research (e.g. for study tours and dissertations).

Seminar – Carthage and Rome: North Africa in Antiquity

This module will examine Phoenician, Carthaginian, native and Roman societies, cultures, art, and religions within the context of North Africa (modern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya). It will look at the region from the creation of Phoenician colonies in the early first millennium BC to the rule of the Severan dynasty at Rome in the early third century AD. It will consider for instance:

  • Phoenician and Roman colonisation and conquest;
  • Hannibal in context;
  • what empires wanted from the native populations;
  • whether the relationship between conquerors and conquered was one of oppression and resistance;
  • whether human sacrifice occurred (and whether the Romans stopped it);
  • the creation of monumental cities such as Roman Carthage, Iol Caesarea and Lepcis Magna
  • how and why a Punic speaker from Lepcis came to rule the Roman world
  • the relationship between nomads and Roman power

In order to explore these issues we will use a wide variety of written sources, inscriptions and archaeology.

Seminar – Homer and the World of Odysseus

It has long been fashionable to explore Bronze Age Greece with Homer in hand, as Schliemann did 130 years ago. Archaeological research, however, especially in the last 30 years has given us a much clearer picture of life and achievement in Homer’s own time – the 8th and 7th centuries BC – a picture which helps us to understand much better the background Homer used for his epics, particularly the Odyssey.

Taking Homer and his near contemporary Hesiod in hand, you too will be able to explore the evidence for architecture and burials, for ironworking and craftsmanship for adventure and colonisation, and for trade and warfare. These aspects of everyday life shaped the experience of Homer’s audiences and enabled his resounding epic poetry to be accepted as real history by his hearers – even if his cast of characters belonged to a much more distant epoch.